Tuesday’s Reviews – Alien: Covenant (2017)

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Before I started writing this review I decided it was time to remind myself of Ridley Scott’s first prequel to Alien. I feel like I’m always having to defend Prometheus from people who thought it was a disappointing addition to the franchise. When I looked at the reviews I was shocked to see that a lot of critics gave the film moderate praise. I mean, yes, that praise was mostly for the aesthetic appeal and Michael Fassbender’s performance but I was under the impression that it had received more of a negative response. I, personally, didn’t mind the film. I knew going in that it wasn’t going to be another wild ride of alien escapes and craziness in space. So I went in with realistic expectations. The people that I know who were most disappointed by it are the ones who expected Ridley Scott to pick up where he left off. Before 2012’s prequel, Scott had only directed the original film in the franchise so there were fans who were hoping he would give us the same treatment that Sigourney Weaver got but a few years earlier. Instead, we went on a journey to discover humanity’s existence and find out where the Alien menace came from. The story wasn’t quite as slick as we were used to and, for the most part, Prometheus gave us more questions than it answered. However, it was still enough to whet our appetite for the prequel’s sequel. Although, there was always the chance that we would get another Attack of the Clones here. I mean nobody expected that to be even more disappointing to fans than Phantom Menace but then Hayden Christensen managed to take shit to a whole new level.

I admire Ridley Scott for making this film. I mean, he was responsible for making one of the single greatest sci-fi films of all time. Hell, I’d happily say that Alien is one of the single greatest films of all time. The last time I watched it I was still scared shitless and I know exactly what’s going to happen at this point. So, he could have bowed out gracefully and let that be his legacy. Instead, he risked pulling a George Lucas and decided to show us the background to a much loved classic. Now, I know a lot of fans weren’t too keen on Prometheus but, if you take away all of your expectations of a film in the franchise, it is actually not that bad a film. There is a great cast and an interesting, if slightly overreaching, narrative. It has fantastic visuals and attempts to solve the mystery surrounding the alien that caused so much grief on the USCSS Nostromo. I enjoyed it and, with every repeat viewing of the Alien: Covenant trailer, I was really looking forward to its sequel.

A sequel which appeared to go out of its way to make connection to both the original Alien and its own sequel Aliens. We are introduced to a colonisation ship, the Covenant, in the midst of its journey to a distant and habitable planet. When an accident causes a few issues, the crew are awoken from hyperspace and discover another habitable planet that is closer to their current location. Now, because the crew have never seen a science-fiction movie before, new Captain Oram (Billy Cruddup) decides it is worth checking out this mysterious, new planet. He goes against the wishes of his second in command, Daniels (Katherine Waterson) for the good of the audience. So we see most of the crew head down to the weird planet whilst a small minority remain to keep things in order.

Unfortunately but not unexpectedly shit starts to go down in typical Alien fashion. The crew starts to be infected by a weird spore that, strangely, causes creatures to burst from their bodies. Hmm, I feel like I’ve heard of that happening before. Luckily, though, David (Michael Fassbender) the creepy android from Prometheus, is on hand to give the crew his new expertise on the creatures. Turns out he became stranded on the planet 10 years earlier and has spent his time alone studying them. The scenes in which he takes Orman through his weird museum of Xenomorph skeletons is super creepy and just amazing.

In terms of plot Alien: Covenant still isn’t exactly as tight as Ridley Scott’s original but it feels as though it is reaching for something within its grasp. It attempts to answer as many of the questions that Prometheus left us with whilst getting closer to the structure of the earlier parts of the franchise. We see glimpses of both Alien and Aliens as the action moves from the wide open spaces of the planet to the confines of the ship. We have the inevitable nods to the very first facehugger and chestburster scenes but with the added gore of CGI. This film certainly pays fan service and will delight for nostalgia alone. However, it may still feel kind of empty to those who are used to this kind of thing. Just as Prometheus was a bigger hit with younger audiences, I believe those unfamiliar with the series will get a bigger kick out of these moments than lifelong fans. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a watch of course.

The problem isn’t that Covenant is a bad film; it’s just that it doesn’t feel new enough. People criticised Prometheus for being too dissimilar to anything that had gone before but this is starting to feel like a step back. The cast is great and, I have to say, that Katherine Waterson makes a much more convincing lead for the film than Noomi Rapace did before her. Waterson has more of the Sigourney Weaver feel about her and handles the character well. Michael Fassbender, in the dual role of David and his contemporary Walter, is still on fantastic form and is clearly having a blast making these films. The film, as its predecessor was, is absolutely stunning. However, there is something missing. The first Alien made so much of such a small concept but, since that point, the concept are getting bigger and less terrifying. I get that Scott wants to handle bigger ideas but, if this is to continue, everything needs a bit more clarity.

TBT – Attack of the Clones (2002)

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I know that it’s a very subjective thing but I think we mostly all agree that, when it comes to Star Wars films, the second ever film in the franchise is the best. I know over the years I’ve changed my mind on the matter many times and can still switch whenever I’m a bit hungry or my mood changes slightly. However, The Empire Strikes Back, ended up being a far better film than A New Hope and it was certainly not surpassed by Return of the Jedi. If you were to ask me, Empire is up there with a limited number of sequels that were better than the original film. This fact may have given fans a glimmer of hope after the disappointing prequel The Phantom Menace by suggesting that lightening could strike twice. We all madly hoped that Attack of the Clones would show us how great Star Wars could be with lashings of CGI and plenty of stupid characters to keep the kids entertained. Unfortunately, it did the opposite and managed to make the first film look like fucking Shakespeare. Just as we can pretty much all agree that the original sequel is the best film in the franchise, I think we all know that the worst is the prequel sequel. So, in honour of this great day, I decided to re-watch it and rip it to shreds.

As you may remember, back in 2015 I wrote a blog post in which I defended the prequels and offered several examples that I believe were genuinely good about them. There are a fair few good things about Revenge of the Sith and some aspects of The Phantom Menace that really worked well. The only things I could think of for Attack of the Clones? The Jedi battle on Geonosis and Obi Wan’s face. Now Ewan McGregor’s face has got me to watch many questionable films over the years and definitely will do again. His casting was the best thing about the prequel films and has caused me to re-watch specific scenes in all of the prequels way too many times. He’s bloody beautiful and super talented despite the god awful lines he’s continually forced to spout. Still, there is only so much that his good looks can cover up.

For the most part, Attack of the Clones is just a long and slow continuation of Anakin’s story where very little happens until the final half hour or so. The tale picks up 10 years after the end of Phantom and Anakin is still Obi Wan’s padawan. He is cocky and still unable to control his emotions. Even if you weren’t aware of the future events in his story, it’s super obvious that he shouldn’t have been allowed into the Jedi order and I spend most of the film wondering why people didn’t realise the outcome sooner. I mean he just comes across as a fucking creep the entire time and looks as though he could kill at any minute. It’s insane that Yoda let him just wander around the galaxy freely carrying a weapon.

Unlike it’s counterpart for the original films, The Empire Strikes Back, there is no dramatic and exciting opening to this film. Instead of a great battle on Hoth, we have an introduction to space politics and a really boring assassination plot. A plot which only serves the purpose of messily putting  Anakin and Padme together to allow them to fall in love. Which is basically all this film cares about. It pushes the romance angle way more than it should, especially because it’s two stars have absolutely no chemistry. Hayden Christensen is incredibly wooden and unemotional throughout his 2 Star Wars films but when he is attempting to woo Natalie Portman there is just nothing there. It doesn’t help that the lines are the worst kind of cliches imaginable but you can’t really tell from the on-screen talent that these two characters are falling in love. It just kind of sneaks up on you and doesn’t make sense. Remember how, the more you think about it, the love story in Beauty and the Beast is super questionable and weird. This one makes that look like fucking relationship goals. It’s just not good.

Thankfully, there is Obi Wan’s side-plot to keep people interested but even that veers off into dull territory from time to time. We see some new worlds and meet some interesting new characters but it isn’t until way down the line that the excitement really kicks in. He goes on a rather tame Space tour and follows bounty hunter Jango Fett to Geonosis. It’s not much to write home about. Until he, and in a painfully laboured way, Anakin and Padme get captured by Separatists and forced to fight in a massive death arena. It is here that the fucking awesome Jedi battle I mentioned as the main positive takes place. It’s a great sequence that really, for the first time in the franchise, shows us the real scope of the Jedi Order. We see why they are considered the Space Police of the whole Galaxy and understand why they were remembered as great warriors.

Still, that’s only 1 scene. We have to wade through an immense amount of shit to get there. We all wanted to love Attack of the Clones and, if it’s sequel brother was anything to go by, it should have been great. Instead it featured and some really boring narrative points and some of the worst writing in cinematic history. The lead couple never really gels enough to sell the only part of the film that George Lucas gives a fuck about and there just isn’t enough of Obi Wan’s face. This film, even more than Phantom, is just a mess of CGI backdrops and awful cartoon characters for the kids. There are moments when I start to feel embarrassed for the people involved in making it. I mean the scene between Obi Wan and Dex the Diner owner is just pure children’s cartoon. Then there’s the moment that could fit in any B movie or soap opera when the director attempts to trick us into thinking Padme is about to be melted. Or, finally, the laughable moment when Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku is speeding along on a CGI space scooter. Who the fuck signed off on that visual? Lee looks super uncomfortable and the end result looks so shitty.

Ultimately though, the problem with Attack of the Clones is that nobody really gave a shit about it. It was just a placeholder. It didn’t matter to the story and was just the inevitable 3rd movie to let the whole double trilogy thing come to life. Phantom was about introducing us to Anakin and explaining how he became a Jedi. Revenge would show us the moment Anakin became Darth Vader. Attack? Nobody really knew what that needed to be about so it was just about nothing really. It was let down by lack of plot and sense of direction. It’s aimless so there is nothing it can do to make up for any shortfalls. If it weren’t for a couple of great moments and some decent acting from the likes of Ewan McGregor, Christopher Lee and Samuel L Jackson then it would have completely crumbled. Also, CGI Yoda is the fucking bomb!

TBT – Alien (1979)

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On 25th January this year, legendary British actor John Hurt died. He was the kind of actor that never really fit into the role of leading man but would have been familiar to a whole host of people thanks to his supporting roles. As I’ve talked about multiple times since his death, John Hurt was the kind of actor that could turn his hand to anything and had a great deal of skill to bring all sorts of people to life on screen. My review on Tuesday looked at one of Hurt’s final films before he died where he made a great impression in the small role of a Catholic priest who Jackie Kennedy talked to after her husband’s death. His role has been made all the more poignant following his death as the character discusses death and the prospect of what follows. The film is definitely emotional but it was watching Hurt’s performance that really got to me. So I wanted to use my TBT post to revisit of his classic films. There are plenty of great ones to pick from and, normally, I should have watched something like The Elephant Man. There are so many great performances to decide between that it becomes impossible to pick just one. Instead, because I’ll take any chance to watch it, I picked Alien. John Hurt may not be in it for very long but his role in the film was certainly one of the most memorable moments in movie history. John Hurt is iconic in this role.

Alien is one of the greatest films of all time and, after watching it again the other day, I can honestly still say that it is still fucking scary. It’s a masterpiece of suspense and horror set in space. The casting is fantastic and the design is great. However, it wasn’t always considered to be one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time. On it’s first release, several eminent film critics declared it to be nothing more than a mass of effects and little else. Oh how the table have turned. Alien is the film that changed its genre and became the template for so many films that followed it. In the 70s science-fiction was becoming more popular but was staying in the fairly family friendly realm. Alien reinvented space with a hideous Hitchcockian twist. And it’s fucking fantastic.

The premise is super simple and it really doesn’t matter. The small crew of a commercial towing vessel are woken from stasis early. Their ship brought them out of sleep to answer a distress call coming from a nearby ship. Upon investigating they discover the crew were killed and the ship has become a breeding ground for some mysterious being. Whilst taking a closer look at one of the creepy eggs on board, one of the creatures attaches itself to a crew member, Kane’s (John Hurt), face.
When the creature eventually becomes unattached and dies, it appears that Kane is unharmed. Until a fucking tiny alien creature bursts from his chest. The rest of the crew then face the bigger issue of a fully grown and deadly monster chasing them around the corridors of their ship and picking them off one by one.

When it comes down to it, Alien isn’t a success because of it’s narrative or it’s script. It’s a mixture of elements taken from so many science-fiction or horror films before it. Writer Dan O’Bannon freely admits that he took inspiration from multiple sources to create a familiar but workable story. What elevates the film is it’s design. O’Bannon and director Ridley Scott were inspired by the artwork of H.R. Giger and it was his paintings that inspired the final look for the film’s fearsome creature. Scott hired Giger to work on the whole of the film and it is down to him that we have such amazing visuals. Those images of the inside of the crashed ship and the egg chamber are all down to his dark vision and it is the making of the film. And it is not just Giger. Every aspect of the film’s design comes together perfectly to create this materpiece. At the time, it was a special effects dream. Everything was done by a skilled team who made some incredibly complicated set pieces come to life. The chest bursting scene is one of the most infamous moments ever seen on screen and has been parodied an infinite number of times by now.

That scene is a feast of blood, gore, and jump scares but Alien is so much more than jut a mindless horror show. The film carefully builds up tension as it goes along and is designed in such a careful way to ensure that the audiences experience is just as terrifying as the crew’s. The film doesn’t rush and takes a perverse pleasure in slowing down the pace as much as possible. It’s all about the suspense because, when it comes down to it, that’s what we want. Shots are held a little longer than necessary to suggest something is about to happen. The lighting and sound helping to create that sense of claustrophobia. Ridley Scott and co. came together to create something that has stood the test of time and is, to this day, one of the most terrifying films ever created. It’s simple and full of cliches but it’s so well crafted that it doesn’t matter. It is the film that started the trend and only goes to prove that you can’t beat the original. I still have to sit through certain scenes with my hands over my eyes. But I’ll always go back for another watch.

Tuesday’s reviews: Passengers (2016)

Chris Pratt, feminism, films, fucking awful, fucking creepy, Jennifer Lawrence, morally wrong, review, sci-fi, women

I wanted to see Passengers from the moment I first saw the trailer. For one thing, Chris Pratt is looking good and I’m always happy to watch that face for an hour or two. Secondly, Michael Sheen as an android? I’m there. Especially if he really is giving up acting in favour of Welsh politics. Finally, the trailer made it out to be a super exciting suspense thriller. It seemed perfect. However, the more I saw/read about the film the more I realised that I’d definitely hate it. I still wanted to watch it though. The lure of some Pratt facetime was just too great. Although my major gripe about the film had something to do with Chris Pratt’s casting. In that I was annoyed by the significant age gap between the two stars on screen. Christ Pratt is about 37 years old whilst Jennifer Lawrence is a youthful looking 26. Now I’m not disputing that relationships occur between people with an age gap of 10 plus years but I don’t see why it had to happen. Lawrence keeps being cast in roles that should be played by an older actor despite having looking younger than her years. Is Hollywood just running out of women in their mid 30s or men in their late 20s? I know the pair make a beathtakingly beautiful couple but I just think the whole premise becomes even creepier when you consider the age gap. But maybe that’s just cynical old me?

Passengers is one of those films that looks too good to be true. It’s full of beautiful people, wearing beautiful clothes, and getting in perilous situations in beautiful locations. There had to be a catch somewhere. No film has that much emphasis on looking shiny and perfect whilst still offering up a great story. So what is the story? The film introduces us to the Avalon, a starship that is making the journey to a distant planet that is to be colonised by the 5,000 odd people on board. The journey would take 120 Earth years so everyone is in hibernation pods. Well, until an asteroid field causes damage to the ship and Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is woken up 90 years too soon. Jim, a mechanic, spends months trying to come to terms with his situation and taking as much pleasure as he can in the high-tech ship. But, it turns out, that a man can only find so much joy in basketball, competitive dance games, and robot waiters. Unable to find a way to go back into hibernation, Jim contemplates ending his life.

Well, until a twist of fate leaves him face-to-face with Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), a writer who is still sleeping through the lengthy journey. To pass his time, Jim starts spending time reading Aurora’s writing, watching her Avalon video biography. and eating his lunch next to her hibernation pod. So naturally, he figures he’s in love with her. Clearly, whenever I see a person sleeping I automatically fall in love with them too. It’s super fucking awkward. Unable to forget his impending lonely life Jim wakes up Aurora from her pod and happily pretends that it happened by accident. It’s fucking crazy! And, because they are the only two humans around, Jim happily pursues the woman he condemned and the pair fall into the best relationship they can when it comes out of such limited options. Plus, basketball and dancing is great and all but sex is the best thing to fight the impending doom of waiting out your life on a spaceship. Until, Aurora finds out what Jim did and, naturally, decides he is not just the only other conscious person but the worst human being of all time.

It’s no fucking wonder that the trailers went so fucking far to erase this massive detail from all of the promotional stuff. This was being sold as a romantic space thriller but instead it’s just a fucking crazed stalker holding a pretty young girl hostage. It’s a weird premise that the writers clearly try to present as morally contemptible and we do see Jim spending a few seconds weighing up the ethics of the situation. Then we see Aurora dismiss him and part company from him. This is all perfectly normal behaviour. Well, until the film’s dismal final act. This is where the film falls down in so many ways. We have the inevitable heroic moment when Jim offers to lay down his life to save the 5,000 plus souls on board. And, apparently, that’s all it takes to take a woman from “your murdered me” to ‘I can’t live without you’. Fucking romantic.

I’m not saying that Passengers is a bad film simply because of this decision. Obviously, it’s the most worrying thing about it but, more than that, Passengers is simply a really bad story. It halfheartedly tries to make a point about ethics in extreme situations but them just ignores it for a shitty sentimental ending. It’s a film that looks amazing but lacks so much in premise that, were it not for the blatant sexism on show, would have made it a completely forgettable film. It’s always a bad sign when your watching a film that doesn’t get better than it’s opening 30 minutes when you’re basically watching a guy doing Groundhog Day in space. After that everything falls apart.

This is a film created by men to appeal to men. Women will sit there watching an unsuspecting and defenceless girl being manipulated by a seemingly nice guy and eventually succumbing to Stockholm syndrome. It’s no wonder we have such a problem with men understanding boundaries when it comes to relationships and sex in this society. Everyman Chris Pratt makes a morally disgusting and selfish choice but is eventually rewarded by getting to see Jennifer Lawrence’s boobs. Yes, I know the film makes an attempt to show how bad the decision was but it is ultimately justified when Aurora makes the decision to stay with Jim instead of going back into hibernation. What does that fucking tell people? With enough persistence and limited options then any woman will chose you over the life they intended to live? Ugh, please. Any real woman would have left that creepy piece of shit and gone to Homestead II as planned. Chris Pratt or no Chris Pratt.